I just finished the book Op naar geluk, by Ap Dijksterhuis, in which the author states that we are 50% in charge of your own happiness. Well… if it only was 1%, then it would still be worth sharing a short summary with you. Especially so close to Christmas.
It’s a pleasant and quick read (it took me as true Epicurean only two days). Every chapter and statement is supported with interesting psychology research and vivid examples that make the read easy to digest. It’s an accessible and popular collection of positive thoughts for any person in search of happiness.
Happiness: the highest goal in life?
Can you think of a higher goal in life than happiness? That’s hard, right? Looking back in time, many philosophers from all eras have thought this through from different angles. From Socrates and Epicurus to Siddhartha and Confucius, they all concluded that happiness is a state of consciousness and is something you can influence through lifestyle.
The stability of happiness
An influential psychologist from Radboud University, Dijksterhuis is keen on involving his readers in small tests, such as: How happy are you, on a scale from 1 to 10? Making up your own mind as a reader, supported with scientific proof, leads to a thesis that happiness is more stable than you might think. It’s your consciousness that can’t be fully trusted when you analyze what makes you happy and what doesn’t. This concept is better explained in his first book, Het slimme onbewuste, published in 2007.
The explanation of flow is one of the strongest models in the pursuit of happiness. Flow is the fantastic state of optimal experience. Flow can be achieved by aligning skill and challenge in the most optical way, leading you to a state of happiness. It’s about a perfect balance between your comfort and learning zones, being creative and enjoying happiness in a wonderful pure form.
Here is a model from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation
The way we motivate ourselves for our actions is important for our happiness. There is intrinsic motivation, which comes from the action itself; for example, playing the piano because you love it. Extrinsic motivation comes from external factors, such as playing the piano because your parents told you to.
What makes this so interesting is the fact that we think we have a clear distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but research tells us otherwise. Increased focus on what’s intrinsic leads to more happiness. A good example is the importance of learning versus the opportunity to earn money. Research clearly indicates that people who have a challenge and are learning are much happier than people who choose extrinsic rewards, like money and status, in pursuit of a management position.
Never let a horizontal move (or even a demotion) prevent you from taking on a challenge that leads to happiness. It reminds me of a fantastic quote from Confucius: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Autonomy is key for happiness
Another important aspect of happiness is our need for autonomy. Dijksterhuis pulls in the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs and comes to a powerful conclusion that any manager can use:
Intrinsic motivation declines with threads and external rewards. They subdue the feeling of autonomy and impact the chance on happiness.
Mindfulness leads to more happiness
No book on happiness is complete without a thorough examination of the role of our ego and our mind wandering through the day. Ap Dijksterhuis goes through this quite simplistically but hits a couple of key conclusions, like the power of now and the fact that you have an internal dialogue, but you are not your internal dialogue. The more deeply people understand this, the better their chance for happiness.
There is also a confronting point in the book: The 183 billion e-mails we send to each other on a daily basis make us mental slaves as we check this stream of information multiple times per hour or even minute. This leaves very vulnerable to procrastination and distances us from focus, creativity, and happiness.
Bring happiness to school and work
I wonder why we shy from using the word happiness more often in schools and business. The influence of our existing educational system on happiness is too indirect. There is sufficient knowledge from philosophy, psychology, sociology, and neuroscience to enhance our current educational system and increase our social and emotional intelligence. The more younger people can benefit from this knowledge, the better it is for society as a whole.
The same goes for the workplace. Ever seen employee happiness as a company goal? Engagement is the term we sometimes see. We need engagement to become happy, but happiness is clearly the higher goal, if not the highest goal, in life. It wouldn’t harm to incorporate it more in our corporate goals, since it’s the intrinsic driver for the success we desire so intensely.
What about making LinkedIn a happier place? It’s not possible to tag this post with the tag “happiness.”
The art of giving
Gandhi once said, “Happiness depends on what you can give, not what you can get.” If you are still looking for a great Christmas gift, you can’t go wrong with Ap Dijksterhuis’ book Op naar geluk. You can only make somebody happier.
Note to international readers: Translations of the books mentioned in this post are not yet available.